opinion

Put this one in the record books: Tuesday’s lopsided vote to oust three Sebastian council members in a recall election is the most impressive political citizen effort in at least 40 years in Indian River County.

I’m unaware of any other successful recall in the county, though there have been others in Florida. In a quick search, the most I found in any one election was in 1996 in Carrollton, Texas, which recalled six of seven council members after a controversial order to bring buildings up to code, the Dallas Morning News reported.

I had no doubt Damien Gilliams, Pamela Parris and Charles Mauti would be recalled by a wide margin. But I can’t ever remember seeing such a skewed vote, with Parris getting only 6.27% of votes to retain her seat. Gilliams and Mauti didn’t fare much better.

As impressive is that Sebastian Voters Against Gilliams and Parris, and the more than 2,000 members of its Facebook group, helped get 31.15% of registered voters to cast ballots by mail and on Tuesday.

That’s a mere 2.5% below Indian River County’s turnout for the August primary, which featured a major slate of countywide races, including County Commission and sheriff.

The 31.5% turnout for a special election is staggering. It shows the power of an engaged citizens group, our democracy and what its original co-chairs Tracey Cole, Chris Nunn and Bill Flynn could do.

They got to celebrate Tuesday night at Pareidolia brewery — council members Jim Hill and Ed Dodd also were there — but now it’s time to get down to business.

A final public hearing on the city’s budget is slated for Sept. 28, according to the city’s website.

A new comprehensive plan — which will guide how the city serves residents through 2040 — is heading through the Planning and Zoning Commission and eventually would be approved by council. Given its importance, the plan cries out for thorough citizen and council review.

More: Sebastian recall candidates reply to TCPalm questionnaire

More: Sebastian must get everyone on same page regarding annexation

Other major topics likely to come up in the next several months to a year are a review of the city’s charter and reconsideration of the Graves Brothers effort to annex into the city 1,100 acres south of County Road 510. The annexation will require further in-depth discussion with an engaged citizenry and neighboring governments.

All this assumes Gilliams’ legal effort to fight the recall ends. Given the voters’ overwhelming rebuke of him and the other council members, he should drop his appeal.

What’s most important is Bob McPartlan, Nunn and Fred Jones get up to speed on city issues.

It should be a relative cakewalk for McPartlan, a studious and well-mannered former mayor.

Nunn should be a quick study, given his computer engineering background and nearly 12 years of progressive responsibilities with St. Lucie County government. He’s been a regular attendee at council meetings.

It’s easy to see why Nunn, with 2,792 votes, and McPartlan, with 2,427, took top billing Tuesday.

How impressive was Nunn’s showing? He had more votes than anyone in an off-year election since popular hurricane commentator-turned-councilman Nate McCollum received 2,512 in 2005.

Ironically, McCollum, Andrea Coy and Brian Burkeen — the retired county emergency management chief recently sentenced to 12 years in prison for stealing county property — defeated two incumbents and Hill that year in an effort to halt city annexations, according to Press Journal archives.

Fred Jones, a retired Florida Highway Patrol master sergeant, also was elected Tuesday, besting Sherrie Mathews, a former Sheriff’s Office administrator, by 115 votes.

One of the great things about the recall election was it had eight credible candidates. I was disappointed Louise Kautenburg finished last. She has been one of the most selfless volunteers in Sebastian, serving with grace on one challenging board after another for years.

Compare the solid lineup to last year when the three ousted candidates were the only ones to challenge McPartlan, Al Iovino and Linda Kitchen following a controversial annexation. The Press Journal/TCPalm last year endorsed McPartlan, Iovino and Mauti.

In 2018, only Gilliams ran against Hill and Dodd.

More: Residents have right to be upset after annexation vote

More: Win puts gadfly in off position of sitting on dais with longtime nemesis

With Hill and Dodd facing two political newcomers in November, the council — and folks who speak at its meetings — must start to give mutual respect and provide diligence the community deserves.

There must be more transparency than ever. The stakes are high amid at least a temporary end of political apathy in Sebastian.

It’s one thing to organize. It’s another to govern and serve.

Terry McGinn, a recall proponent, created an outstanding voter guide for selecting quality council candidates. Among my favorite suggestions are that council members:

  • Have business experience. Council members are directors for a city government.
  • Must make decisions in a “stress environment … and emotions cannot be a substitute. Consensus building and critical thinking is a must.”
  • Have a “normal” demeanor. “Listening beats yelling. Interrupting is for rude people and little kids. The council should be a team sport. You don’t have to always agree but can reach an end goal.”
  • Not take on personal crusades. “ … key issues need to be determined by public and council consensus not by oration and dictating policy.”

To me, this means meeting with and listening to all Sebastian residents and interested entities — not just friends, people you like or those who elected you. 

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“The people of Sebastian will not take their government for granted again,” McGinn told me Tuesday night.

That, to me, means keeping incumbents — even those newly elected — on their toes. Voters must demand and get top-notch service.

Citizens will have a better council than they had last week.

But they won’t have a trio to unite against anymore, the trio who gave them the ugly, expensive gift of recall by holding an outrageous, allegedly illegal meeting after the city manager canceled it in April.

It’s time for Sebastian residents to have a new focus: Making city government the best, friendliest and most accountable it can be.

This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Support his work by subscribing to TCPalm. Contact him via email at larry.reisman@tcpalm.com, phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman

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